Fujifilm X100S: Macro mode soft, avoid wide apertures

The Fujifilm X100S: probably the best high-end compact in the world? Not if close-up shooting's your thing. The X100S's APS-C size X-Trans CMOS II has done away the low-pass filter and uses a proprietary colour array for extra sharp shots - only problem is all that good work is undone when using wide apertures for close-up macro shots.

It's not just that shots aren't sharp though, shoot at f/2.0 - the widest aperture setting - with a close focus distance and it's like a 1970's Vaseline-laden filter's been plonked in front of the lens. We were out shooting some spring daisies and immediately saw the smeary results achieved when the aperture was wide open.

Fujifilm X100S macro f/2.0 sample image [shot handheld] - click for full size crop at f/2.0 and at f/4.0

Must be something on the lens was the first thought to mind. But nope, clean as a whistle. Stop down and results cleared up just fine - at f/4.0 we were snapping fine shots no problems.

We're well aware that macro pros aren't likely to shoot at the widest of available apertures - the depth of field is too narrow and other optical nasties rear their ugly heads - but we're surprised by the way the X100S output results.

As much as such an issue may be shrugged off by some who wouldn't use such settings, here lies an unavoidable issue: in certain lighting conditions the camera will automatically open the aperture right up and any electronic preview you see will don the same soft-filter-like softness which makes manual focus tricky. A half depression of the shutter will reveal the true depth-of-field results with accurate sharpness, but it's a faff to need to keep dipping the shutter in and out to get there when the camera's needed to utilise f/2.0 for preview purposes.

We fiddled through the X100S's menu to ensure we didn't have any special filters or modes on and, once we'd confirmed everything looked good on this firmware v1.01 model we eventually got in contact with Fujifilm to request a second sample model - just to verify that such results weren't isolated to a single, defective camera. A week later X100S numero dos arrived in the post and, sure enough, the same kind of results were reproducible:

Fujifilm X100S macro f/2.0 sample image [note: the tapemeasure markings do not in any way correlate to focus distance] - click for full size crop at f/2.0 and at f/4.0

Whether shooting JPEG or raw, we even set up a tripod and set up manual focus to ensure there was no camera shake. But softness was still prevalent throughout, as shown above.

It makes our hearts bleed a little as we do love how the Fujifilm X100S performs in most circumstances - particularly for that street photography style that it's by and large designed for. But if you want to shoot close-up at wide aperture settings then think again.

We've asked Fujifilm for further comment and will update this article as we acquire additional information.